It’s pretty clear, now, that we’re living in the future.

 
 

Five things we learned at the SearchLeeds conference

Our resident digital geek Annis attended the SearchLeeds conference recently to find out more about current trends in digital marketing. Here are just a few of the things she learned…

Leeds Dock was bursting at the seams on July 7th, when digital marketeers from across the country gathered for the inaugural SearchLeeds conference.

Organised by SEO agency Branded3, and featuring speakers from big digital players such as Bing, Hubspot, iProspect and Search Laboratories, the event hosted more than 300 delegates and was billed as the hottest digital event Leeds has seen in years.

Our own digital marketing geek Annis decided to go along and see what all the fuss was about, and came away with a wealth of new knowledge and a brain buzzing with ideas. Here are just a few of the things she learned from the day’s stellar line-up of speakers…
 
Your audience is human, and they might not like your idea
The first session of the day was led by Kirsty Hulse, founder and director of digital marketing collective ManyMinds, who spoke about the importance of relationship-building for effective SEO and how digital marketers can learn from traditional PR techniques to build good quality links. Kirsty’s infectious enthusiasm and hilarious client stories were a great start to the conference – she laid out a selection of practical and imaginative tips for relationship-building in a competitive (and impersonal) digital landscape.

Kirsty’s key point was that behaviour patterns can be predicted and their likelihood maximised, but that people aren’t machines. However hard we marketers work, we can’t force an audience to engage with a campaign that holds no relevance for them; meanwhile, a proposition which provides genuine value to its target audience forms a much better basis for a campaign.
 
‘Great content’ is irrelevant if you don’t make it accessible
Great content
How many of us have gone to a website to seek a product, service or some information, only to leave again because it’s so poorly structured or confusingly laid out that we don’t want to stay to find the information we’re looking for?

HubSpot’s Matthew Barby spoke to delegates about how ‘there’s more to life than great content’ – the notion that the success of digital content relies on much more than just the quality of its copy. A frequent example of this, he said, was lack of promotion: it’s incredibly common for brands to produce fantastic content assets, conduct no outreach activity to promote them, and wonder why they haven’t gone viral. Another key point was that site architecture and user experience play an enormous part in user drop-off: websites with confusing pagination and impenetrable sitemaps tend to send users running for the hills, however good the content actually is.

Matthew then ran the audience through a range of quick tricks to make website content more accessible to search engines and easier for users to find – even small tweaks, he demonstrated, can yield impressive results.
 
When it comes to quality content, you probably know more than you think.

Branded3’s Tim Grice took on a heroic task to prepare for his talk: reading all 146 pages of Google’s Search Quality Rating guidelines so we didn’t have to. In his session, he took us through the guidelines used by Google’s 4,500 quality raters to assess the quality of website content in terms of expertise, authority and trustworthiness, and discussed how these can then be used to decide whether a site should be rewarded (with improved rankings and search visibility) or penalised (by having its visibility stripped).

Tim’s insights were fascinating from both a writer’s and a digital marketer’s perspective. Many of Google’s markers for content quality – that topical information is more valuable than thin, basic content, for example – seem obvious points at first glance, but enough businesses have suffered from having their search visibility stripped to know that, perhaps, their content could be better.

In essence, Tim’s point was that all content should add value to, or enhance the purpose of, a website. If it doesn’t, it’s doing no one any favours – and could, in fact, be doing it harm.
 
Audience analysis should never be a guessing game
“Act on information about people and products, not sessions.”
That’s the advice of Rob McGowan from Response One,  who gave an insightful talk about audience analysis and how understanding and effective segmentation can help us create better marketing campaigns. Rob explained that audience data can be found anywhere: detailed CRM records, audience surveys about their relationships with your products, and profiling tools such as YouGov and Mosaic are only the start of what’s it’s possible to learn about your target audience.

Rob’s advice is to make sure you’re treating your audience as people, not users – isolating their problems and identifying ways to solve them is much more likely to have a positive effect on a business than focusing too hard on the number-crunching and forgetting to ask what your customers want.
 
And finally… technology is terrifying.

Technology
One of the last talks of the day was given by Tom Anthony, head of R&D at Distilled, who took us on a truly mind-boggling tour of some of the newest developments in search engine technology. From intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Echo demonstrating the potential of machine learning, to ‘bioimpedance’ software which allows a person to automatically log into any device just by holding it, Tom talked through some of the ways developers are working on creating solutions to consumers’ problems. Delegates’ jaws dropped around the room as they realised just how sophisticated search is becoming – it’s pretty clear, now, that we’re living in the future.

    
 
The Partners Group

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